Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats

his branch of the profession (conveyancing) rose steadily. It is
even recorded that his name has passed into one of the law
books in connexion with an exemplary piece of legal work he
did* But it is extremely gratifying to record also that Cayley
was no milk-and-water saint but a normal human being who
could, when the occasion called for it, lose his temper. Once he
and his friend Sylvester were animatedly discussing some point
in the theory of invariants in Cayley's office when the boy
entered and handed Cayley a large batch of legal papers for his
perusal. A glance at what was hi his hands brought him down
to earth with a jolt. The prospect of spending days straigh-
tening out some petty muddle to save a few pounds to some
comfortable client's already plethoric income was too much for
the man with real brains in his head. With an exclamation of
disgust and a contemptuous reference to the 'wretched rubbish'
in his hands, he hurled the stuff to the floor and went on talking
mathematics. This, apparently3 is the only instance on record
when Cayley lost his temper. Cayley got out of the law at the
first opportunity - after fourteen years of it. But during his
period of servitude he had published between 200 and 300
mathematical papers, many of which are now classic.
As Sylvester entered Cayley's life during the legal phase we
shall introduce him here.
James Joseph - to give him first the name with which he wa|
born - was the youngest of several brothers and sisters, and was
born of Jewish parents on 3 September 1814 in London. Very
little is known of his childhood, as Sylvester appears to have
been reticent about his early years. His eldest brother emi-
grated to the United States, where he took the name of Syl-
vester, an example followed by the rest of the family. But why
an orthodox Jew should have decorated himself with a name
favoured by Christian popes hostile to Jews is a mystery.
Possibly that eldest brother had a sense of humour; anyhow,
plain James Joseph, son of Abraham Joseph, became hence-
forth and for evermore James Joseph Sylvester.
lake Cayley's, Sylvester's mathematical genius showed itself
early. Between the ages of six and fourteen he attended private
schools. The last five months of hi& fourteenth year were spent